Bhilwara: A 55-year-old woman in Rajasthan`s Bhilwara district was branded as a witch by villagers and brutally tortured, beaten and had chilli powder thrown into her eyes and private parts, police said on Sunday. She was admitted to hospital in a critical condition.
The police have registered a first information report (FIR) against some villagers, but no arrest has been made as the accused are on the run.
According to the police, the incident took place in Gurawari village of the district, some 250 km from state capital Jaipur.
"The victim, 55-year-old Sayri, was returning home from a temple when four people including a woman intercepted her and started beating her with sticks," a senior police officer said.
Soon a huge crowd of villagers gathered there as the attackers claimed she was a witch and was possessed by an evil spirit. One of the attackers is said to be the victim`s relative. They also stripped the woman.
"One of the attackers, Devi Lal and his wife Premi Devi threw chilli powder in her eyes and private parts. On seeing this, the woman`s mentally challenged son Ratan rushed to her rescue, but he was also beaten up," the officer said.
One of the villagers informed the police. A police team rushed her to hospital in an unconscious state. "She is still undergoing treatment. We have registered a case against the attackers, but they are missing from the village. Teams have been rushed to various places in search," the officer said.
Police said the attackers had been harassing the woman for a long time claiming that she was possessed by evil spirits which were the cause of prolonged illness in some children in the village.
Many similar incidents of branding women as witches and torturing them have been reported from remote rural areas of Rajasthan.
The state department of women and child development recently proposed a stringent law against the practice of branding women as witches.
According to the draft of the Rajasthan Women (Prevention and Protection from Atrocities) Bill, 2011, a crime would be considered to have been committed when any person or community intentionally or inadvertently abets, conspires, aids and instigates the identification of a woman as a witch, leading to her mental and physical torture and humiliation.
The bill has proposed a maximum of seven years` imprisonment and fine for those who grab the land of such women after forcing them to leave their houses.
If a woman commits suicide after being called a witch, the accused shall be given a prison sentence of not less than five years, which can be extended to 10 years, with a minimum fine of Rs 25,000. The fine can be enhanced to Rs 50,000, the bill draft says.